On Tuesday I explained how to set up an editorial calendar to help visualize your schedule and take the stress off of coming up with last-minute content. This is what I would describe as a system – something you put into place that systematically helps you on your journey towards your goal. Whereas a goal tends to be an overarching milestone of some sort that takes a lot of work to achieve, systems are handy for keeping yourself on track as well as putting things in place to make the journey less strenuous. Like with the editorial calendar, you still have to do actual work, but at least we can make it a little bit more smoother.
The problem with goals
Last year I discovered that it’s a good idea to have short-term goals alongside long-term goals. The problem is, even a short-term goal – like creating 4 print-worthy pictures by the end of the month – can still feel like a long time to achieve while you’re living your day-to-day life. It’s easy for distractions to take over. Suddenly you wake up and you have a week left before your short-term goal. What! It’s supposed to be easy! That’s why it’s short! Wahhh.
The concept of a short-term goal is easy enough, but the problem is figuring out how and when to achieve it. This is where systems come in handy. A system takes some initial work (like setting up an editorial calendar) but paves the way for smooth sailing once in place.
Using a system to work towards a goal
Here’s a money example: Aspiring rockstar Janet decides she wants to save up for a sweet new guitar. She makes a goal of saving up enough money to buy herself one for her birthday in October. Simple, right? But months roll on by — sometimes she remembers to set aside some money, but ultimately she ends up not sticking through with it. Her best friend Harley, however, knows Janet’s flakey tendencies and secretly decides to save up money, too – and surprise Janet with the guitar herself. Harley and Janet have the same goal (save up guitar money by October), but only Harley creates a system through which she’s guaranteed to be able to afford the guitar by October. Harley logs onto her banking site and creates a new savings account, just for the guitar, and sets up monthly transfers for $100. From then on, $100 is automatically put into the guitar fund each month. By the time October arrives, Harley has enough to buy a guitar for Janet, and she didn’t even have to think about it. Yay! Janet’s birthday arrives and Harley shows up with the guitar. Janet is ecstatic and they decide to form a band. The two jam all night with their friends. Confetti and glitter, everywhere.
There are many different ways to make a system work for you. For web comic purposes, you could say that creating a buffer of pages is setting up a system of updates for yourself. Setting up alerts and reminders for things down the road is a system you set up to keep yourself accountable. Social media can be used to stay knowledgable about the industry and learn from others – all you have to do is follow the right people and watch the inspiration pop up in your feeds. Following Tumblrs featuring drawing lessons, inspiration and advice from other artists that you can bookmark is a great way to create a personalized well of resources for yourself whenever you’re feeling stuck. Google Reader can be used the same way – you can even tag posts to stay organized.
Going back to our short-term goal above (creating 4 print-worthy drawings by the end of the month), let’s see how we can make a system to help achieve it. First, let’s ask ourselves some questions.
What’s the objective? Easy enough: 4 print-worthy drawings.
Okay, so what do I deem print-worthy? A finished full-bleed color picture formatted for printing.
What size should they be? Where are they going to be printed? Are they going to be a series or standalone? What’s going to be in them?
By now you get the point – get as specific as you can about your goal and what you need to achieve it. I’ve decided that I want to create a series of 4 pictures featuring scenes from Wes Anderson’s Life Aquatic. They’re going to be postcard-sized (4″ x 5″) and I’m going to order a batch of them through VistaPrint to distribute at my next show. My inspiration for style is drawn from various sources on Tumblr, but in the back of my mind I know I want to go for a retro pop vibe.
The better you can visualize the details of your goals, the better you can set up a system to achieve it. For my Life Aquatic postcard project, I would either create a list or a calendar spreadsheet specifically for this endeavor. I imagine it would look something like this:
- week one goal: re-watch Life Aquatic and take screenshots of scenes I want to illustrate. create four documents at appropriate sizes. browse Tumblr/Google Reader bookmarks for color/linework inspiration. finalize concepts for each of the four pieces.
- week two goal: spend an hour each night after work sketching out the concepts of each piece. have finished sketches + color laid out for the four pieces.
- week three goal: start coloring for at least an hour each night. start refining colors by the end of the week.
- week four goal: finish coloring. look over everything before sending it off to print.
Now that the mental work of sorting out tasks has been done, I can go about my month as normal, regularly checking the above list to see if I’m on track. Even if I couldn’t finish it all by the end, I will be damn near close! I would also be in a much better position than if I were to just stick with my original vague goal of “draw 4 print-worthy pictures”.
Having systems in place is something that I am still playing around with, but so far I feel like it’s been a major boon to my productivity. Do you have any systems set up for yourself? Let me know how you run things in the comments or drop me a line!